One of my favorite things about reading the Reformers, or the Fathers for that matter, is finding that the best insights I’ve loved in modern scholars aren’t really that new at all. Take the concept of ‘new creation.’ For many of us, N.T. Wright is probably the modern scholar who brought our attention to the theology of new creation. At least for me he did. In his many works on Paul, the Resurrection, and Christian Origins, again and again, he calls us to hear the proclamation that in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection all things, the cosmos as a whole, have been renewed. God wasn’t simply concerned with saving souls off to an ethereal heaven, but rather faithfully rescuing the world from the decay into which it had fallen. Resurrection isn’t just for people, but the universe as a whole. This is bracing and beautifully good news.
As great as learning all of that is, however, one of the unfortunate side effects of reading Wright, and other modern scholars, is that we’re tempted to think that cosmic element to the Gospel had been entirely screened out and forgotten until about 20 years ago. And yet, here I ran across it in Calvin’s comments on the Christ-hymn in Colossians:
He is the beginning. As ἀρχὴ is sometimes made use of among the Greeks to denote the end, to which all things bear a relation, we might understand it as meaning, that Christ is in this sense (ἀρχὴ) the end. I prefer, however, to explain Paul’s words thus — that he is the beginning, because he is the first-born from the dead; for in the resurrection there is a restoration of all things, and in this manner the commencement of the second and new creation, for the former had fallen to pieces in the ruin of the first man. As, then, Christ in rising again had made a commencement of the kingdom of God, he is on good grounds called the beginning; for then do we truly begin to have a being in the sight of God, when we are renewed, so as to be new creatures. He is called the first-begotten from the dead, not merely because he was the first that rose again, but because he has also restored life to others, as he is elsewhere called the first-fruits of those that rise again. (1 Corinthians 15:20.)
Of course, the concept was biblical first–he is commenting on Paul. In that sense it’s always been silly to think this was a new idea. Still, here we see Calvin, 500-something years ago, teaching us that Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of a ‘new creation.’ Way back when, in the hey-day of the Reformation, back when everybody was allegedly too pre-occupied with debates about justification and the salvation of the soul, one of its chief architects was preaching redemption as the act of the God who made all things and is now restoring them, indeed, bringing them to the completion he had always intended. Go figure.
As grateful as I am for scholars like Wright who highlight these themes, giving them new life, deeper connections to their 2nd Temple historical settings–I’m all for development and additional heft–it’s good to know that you can still go back to the greats of theological history and find most of the framework’s been in place for a long time. Indeed, the Reformers would probably say they’re only repeating what the Fathers taught us. And, of course, the Fathers would probably say they’re only repeating what the Apostles said, pointing us faithfully back to the Scriptures.
All that to say, don’t be scared to pick up a commentary published earlier than 1950, or even 1550 for that matter.
Soli Deo Gloria